Monthly Archives: March 2018

Campaigners call for a ‘People’s Newham’ as Robin Wales is voted out.

On Saturday 17 March, Focus E15 campaigners celebrated the news of Robin Wales’ deselection by riding through the streets of  Newham in a open-topped bus. The bus was draped with placards, banners and flags displaying clear political messages about the lack of social housing in the borough. Campaigners sang out the good news that the Mayor had been deselected, chanting in unison ‘Robin Wales has gone -so long so long’ and received many thumbs up and happy waves from Newham residents amazed at the sight of a bus load of campaigners. There were many joyful beeps and hoots from supportive motorists.  Back on board the bus, exhilarating live drumming kept the freezing temperatures at bay as did the constant chanting of ‘Robin Wales is Out’ all set to the sound of popping champagne corks and loud cheering.

This celebratory mood is understandable as the Labour Mayor Robin Wales has been in power for 23 years, leaving behind him a rotten legacy of 1 in 25 people homeless. Focus E15 campaign has been a constant thorn in the side of  Robin Wales for the past four years by protesting at the lack of council housing in the borough at many Mayoral proceedings and full council meetings, as well as leading an occupation on the boarded up Carpenters Estate back in 2014, when the Mayor was forced to issue a public apology for the way he had treated the original 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel.

However Focus E15 campaign knows full well that the fight for decent council housing does not end with Robin Wales’s deselection.

With this in mind, Focus E15 campaign is already placing demands on the Labour Mayoral candidate Rokhsana Fiaz and demanding that Carpenters Estate is saved for all existing residents and is maintained as 100% council  housing.

With the news of Robin Wales’ defeat, groups in Newham have started to push for a People’s Charter which has already been presented to Rokhsana Fiaz. It is printed in full below. We will continue to raise the rights of all residents of Newham and hold the incoming council and the next Mayor to account.

Join us at our public meeting on 7 April at 2.30pm at Sylvias Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd E15 4DN to discuss more.

If your group would like to sign the charter please send an email to focuse15london@gmail.com or send the campaign a message on Facebook or twitter  @focuse15.

The charter has so far been signed by the following groups and individuals:

  1. Kevin Blowe
  2. Focus E15 Campaign
  3. Newham People’s Alliance
  4. Unite for Change
  5. Newham for Change
  6. The People’s Revolt
  7. East London Revolutionary Communist Group
  8. Newham Green Party
  9. Sasha Das Gupta
  10. Nadia Johnson
  11. Valerie Johnson
  12. Joseph Johnson

Newham People's Charter final

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Wave goodbye to Robin Wales – unpopular Mayor is deselected by Newham Labour!

Finally! Robin Wales has been deselected as mayoral candidate for Newham Labour after a tense battle against Rokshana Fiaz, who will now go on to face the electorate in the local elections in May and won by over 350 votes. The news of his deselection was announced on Friday 16 March 2018.  It was Robin Wales, who told the original group of 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel (after cutting the funding to the mother and baby unit) that “if you can’t afford to live in Newham, then you can’t afford to live in Newham”. Robin Wales has been in charge of Newham council for 23 years as he was head of the Council from 1995 and Labour Mayor since 2002. He has been an unpopular and unreachable figure. He spent decades promoting policies that has led to social cleansing, forcing working class people out of the borough whilst leaving homes empty and boarding up Carpenters Estate. Today 1 in 25 people in Newham are homeless as a result.

Focus E15 Campaign will be pleased to see the back of Robin Wales – because he was an advocate of kicking out the poor and most vulnerable, running a council with £563m debt after reckless borrowing from the banks and lately using the equivalent of a staggering 125% of council tax revenue on debt repayment. However the campaign also knows full well that the pressure needs to be applied to the new (very likely Labour) Mayor to promote a sustainable housing policy that benefits and suits the needs of working class residents.

Before the next leg of the campaign is fired up, Focus E15 campaign will be reflecting on the last four years and celebrating  Robin Wales’s deselection on Saturday at their street stall in Stratford by having a bit of a party and then carrying on raising awareness of all the above issues by taking an open top bus through the streets of Newham. Focus E15 campaigner Jasmin Stone explains that:

“Robin Wales is out! We have spent, four and a half  years fighting his social cleansing and demanding the repopulation of Carpenters estate! So many times being locked out of council meetings, attacked by private security at the Mayor’s show, arrested illegally for protesting against wrongful evictions and now he is out! Good riddance. However the fight is not over. We must make sure that the Newham People’s Charter demands are heard and met. And Robin Wales I think you will need to use Workplace and find a new job… can’t imagine anyone wanting to employ you though….

Watch this and share… More about Robin Wales’ legacy…

https://twitter.com/focuse15/status/974290151785598978?s=21

https://www.facebook.com/focuse15/videos/1667864403256905/

Let us not let Newham Labour Party and the new Mayor off the hook -we must hold them to account immediately! Read more about the Newham’s People’s Charter which Focus E15 campaign is endorsing here:
https://focuse15.org/2018/03/11/newham-peoples-charter-drawn-up-as-robin-wales-faces-deselection/

Please do join us in our celebrations to mark an end of a long era for Newham at our weekly stall on Saturday 17 March – 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway, London E15 1NG and then afterwards for more adventures on the free Focus E15 bus trip around Newham. Bring children, placards, food and drink!

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Sara made ‘Intentionally Homeless’ by Newham Council

The following blog post is taken directly from a report written for the Revolutionary Communist Group’s website. Thank you for allowing  Focus E15 Campaign to reprint this report in full below.

No such thing as intentional homelessness – Sara must stay in Newham

Robin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the end of his reign. Rokhsana Fiaz is standing against him for the Labour mayoral candidacy and the results will be announced on Friday 16 March after local Labour members have voted. This situation came about after a trigger democracy process which has forced Wales to accept a challenger for the first time. All Newham wards voted for someone to stand against him. Wales is running scared and after decades of vicious treatment of working class people in the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist leading a radical council. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Focus E15 Campaign has been working with Sara, a mother of two young children in Newham. Her story is outlined on the Focus E15 website here. Since she refused to be moved to Birmingham, Newham Council says she has made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ and has discharged their duty to house her.

On International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! stood with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign, alongside children and parents from Sara’s son’s school, Museum of Homelessness, Streets Kitchen and Newham Green Party,  as we challenged Robin Wales at the Mayoral Proceedings. This meeting is where Robin Wales rubber stamps anything he likes surrounded by his hand-picked cronies from the council. Usually an hour long, on 8 March Robin Wales looked shifty and nervous as the public gallery filled up and he raced through proceedings. After only 22 minutes he and his colleagues made a swift exit. They saw and they heard but not one stopped to look at the messages on the banners or placards nor listen to the speeches and chants from the gallery, as we demonstrated our solidarity with Sara. There is no such thing as intentional homelessness and Sara must be housed in Newham, near her family and support networks, in her community and where her children go to school.

With news of the protest spreading on social media, the local press took interest and Wales’ challenger Rokhsana Fiaz asked to meet with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign. Newham Council was forced to issue a statement defending their callous treatment of Sara and her children and standing by their decision to refuse her any further housing support.

The pressure is on, but we must all remember that Sara is just one of thousands of people and families who are facing social cleansing in Newham and at the hands of rotten Labour boroughs all around London. We must also be aware that replacing Robin Wales, while a huge victory after his years of abuse of working class people, migrants and the most vulnerable in our communities, will not solve the problems of capitalism. Rokhsana Fiaz says that housing is first of her top three priorities. It is up to us to hold her to account. Focus E15 Campaign has pledged to do this. Join us!

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Newham People’s Charter drawn up as Robin Wales faces deselection.

Newham People's Charter finalRobin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the possibility of deselection by the end of this coming week. Rokhsana Fiaz is standing against him for the Labour mayoral candidacy and the results will be announced on Friday 16 March after local Labour members have voted. Robin Wales is running scared and after decades of promoting policies of social cleansing of working class people, forcing them out of the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist and a radical. We know that nothing could be further from the truth.

If this is the end of the reign of Robin Wales, now is the right time for community groups and campaigns to put maximum pressure on the new Mayor and not let the Labour council off the hook.   Focus E15 campaign is endorsing a people’s charter for Newham. It is a work in progress and is intended to spark debate and discussion about what kind of Newham we, the people, want.

Focus E15 campaign presented this idea of drawing up a people’s Charter to the prospective Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz on Saturday 10 March 2018 at her surgery in Custom House. If your group or community would like to endorse the People’s charter please email the campaign and we will add you onto a list focuse15london@gmail.com.

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Focus E15 campaigners presenting a People’s Charter for Newham to the prospective Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz.

 

Why I am A Focus E15 Campaigner: celebrating International Women’s Day

Rebecca Morris from Focus E15 Campaign gives a personal reflection on International Women’s Day.

On March 8 Focus E15 Campaign will be marking International Women’s Day by joining the International Women’s Strike, and singing with Rebel Choir in Russell Square from 1pm. The Rebel Choir is an activist-community choir. Together we will be singing songs in solidarity with victims of abuse, UCU strikers, mothers in Colchester who are protesting at the introduction of Universal Credit, and with women and non-binary people the world over. Then at 5pm, we are going to make a din at the mayoral proceedings in Newham, in solidarity with a single mother of two who is about to be evicted by the council for refusing to be relocated to Birmingham: https://www.facebook.com/events/2037697086489971/

I want to talk about why I think it is still important to participate in the Women’s Strike and why I am a Focus E15 campaigner.  I am not a Focus E15 Campaigner because I am a mother. I am not a Focus E15 Campaigner because I identify as a woman. I am part of Focus E15 Campaign because we campaign for a society where all, regardless of gender, background, race or familial attachments have an adequate home – a place to feel safe and comfortable. This is not the reality for many people. Every week on the Focus E15 stall horror stories are heard: evictions from rogue landlords, the awful, cramped conditions of temporary accommodation, where some families share just one room for lengthy periods of time, making it seem as if we really have gone back in time.

A hundred years ago, Sylvia Pankhurst’s campaigned for decent housing in the East End and her writings discuss the inadequacies of housing for the working class. The following outlines what she considered to be essential for every family home:

“A moment’s thought conjures up many requirements which should be considered essential to every home, but which in almost every working-class home are lacking. Each adult member is surely entitled to at least one room of his or her own (and whoever works or studies all day at home should have two rooms). There should be a place, to sit in, a place to meet friends in, a place to read and be quiet in, a place out of doors where the children can play in fine warm weather, and a place indoors for wet, cold weather, furnished with toys and childish things. These are essential, but the problem of cleaning and tidying must be taken into account, for the housewife must not be an overworked slave.”

It is depressing that nowadays this vision seems impossible for so many. Yet we must not give in for our struggle for decent secure homes for all.

Focus E15 campaign was started by 29 young mothers who were about to be evicted from their hostel by Newham council, they stood together and refused to leave their communities. Over 4 years on, Focus E15 continues the weekly street stall on the Stratford Broadway. It is a multi-gendered campaign that would not have been able to win countless victories without the support of so many from the community.

In Paul Watt’s recent article, Gendering the right to housing in the city: Homeless female lone parents in post-Olympics, austerity East London, he breaks down how Newham council and our neighbouring council of Waltham Forest used the greater powers councils received to allocate council houses after the 2011 Localism act. Waltham Forest slashed 11,925 applicants off its waiting list, the largest reduction in England, while Newham sliced 5000 off its list, the eighth largest reduction. They began prioritising applicants in paid employment and ex-members of the armed forces. As Watt argues, “this prioritisation has had considerable, albeit under-appreciated, gendered effects. Newham and Waltham Forests’ housing allocations’ policies effectively discriminate against women who have a small presence in the armed forces and are also less likely than men to be in paid employment, not least because of caring responsibilities.”

Watt uses personal case studies with single mothers to further outline the disadvantages women and children experience in temporary accommodation. These mothers have the right to be in safe public housing yet their “safety was jeopardised by their experiences of living in temporary accommodation where they had to share communal areas with strangers, including men who could be intimidating and even violent.” Moreover, Watt argues the huge disadvantages to mothers being re-housed out of borough, and the fact that particularly in the time of austerity they rely heavily on support and services of the city. The campaign believes it is vital that we support and give solidarity to the most vulnerable. If lone parents struggle to find a safe home for their children, then our society has failed.

Yet herein lies another issue that Focus E15 have had to contend with: the dichotomy of mothers and women who consider themselves activists being labelled as ‘victims’. It sometimes feels as if no matter how clued up and radical we are as campaigners, the mainstream media and those in power will only listen, or lend us a voice if we are presented as victims, or fragile women who only went the radical route when all other options failed. When the campaign started, the mothers did not give in, and who knows what might have happened to them if they had. They fought back and responded quickly. They did this simply by knocking on each other’s doors; by organising together with other political groups; keeping each other’s spirits up; supporting each other; going out onto the streets and talking to people and asking them to sign a petition.

I truly believe that Focus E15 Campaign is challenging traditional power structures through collective organising. Involved in the campaign are a fantastic and creative collective of people; pooling resources to create dynamic publicity stunts; generating memes; sourcing local news about the council; sharing inspiring quotes, videos and raising political awareness. There is so much power in this style of organising. We look out for each other. And we are not victims.

We want to inspire other people, women, mothers, children to start a campaign. You are never too young or too old – there is a diversity of ages represented in our campaign, and children have always played a huge part, always present at the weekly street stall in Stratford.

To conclude, I would like to recall a moment that stood out to me at an open meeting we recently had on children and homelessness. A member of Focus E15, the housing activist and single mother of three who has been re-located to Basildon, stood up, and brushing angry tears away from her eyes, told a silent room how as a result of her displacement she had suffered racism in her local area, as well as mental health issues, yet maintained that no matter how she is treated by the council and her neighbours, she will stay determined to fight until she sees victory, and that she has been able to do this with the support of Focus E15. This put me in mind of a quote by Sylvia Pankhurst, one that we have had stitched onto a banner by activist and artist, Andrew Cooper: “I am going to fight capitalism even if it kills me. It is wrong that people like you should be comfortable and well fed while all around you people are starving”.